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If you haven't yet seen this Battle of the Babes, which I came to through reading Esther Kaplan's bit on anti-choice blogs, you should check it out. An "anti-choice" woman asks: which side had the better looking protesters, those who support reproductive rights or those who want to take them away? It's funny, in a disturbing sort of way, but the most depressing part is the two page photo essay that occurs before the question. While the woman who took the pictures obviously is a strong believer in forced childbirth* and picked pictures that backed up her point, there's no escaping the disarray and competing messages of the pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice side.
Yes, there's something beautiful about the wild disarray of the reproductive rights activists compared to the scary silent uniformity of those who are supporting forced childbirth because "Women Deserve Better." But it's also true that having a singular clear message is a lot more effective, especially considering these pictures are from January 21, 2006 just days before Samuel Alito was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.
There's been a long debate in grassroots progressive politics about how important it is to be unified in message. But if you look at the picture above from the March for Women's Lives in 2004, reproductive rights activists did manage to pull together a large diverse group with a clear message, though I would argue "March for Womens Lives" is still not as strong or active a frame as "Women Deserve Better," even if it is less patronizing. No one can say women don't deserve "better," even if each side has a different idea of what that means and who should get to decide what women deserve. Looking back at that 2004 March, Rebecca Traister asks, "What the hell happenend?"
Well, besides the relection of President Bush and a general sense of complacency among most Americans that abortion is here to stay, even if it is very restricted, I'm not sure a lot did. We didn't then, and we still don't, have a sure-footed way of talking about abortion in large part because it is such a personal complicated decision. [See Deanna's excellent post here.] There's no way to have an unemotional debate and this is the area, where emotion is translated into strategic politics, where I think progressives most need to work. How do we reach people's fears and concerns without manipulating them. How do we talk about the sadness and frustration of our limited reproductive choices without jumping to the conclusion that we should abolish these choices?
*For want of a better term, I'm picking up on Josh and others' replacement of "pro-life" with "forced childbirth." It doesn't flow off the tongue but it's a hell of a lot more accurate.